April 27, 2020
Charlie Goeke is the Director of Vanguard, the Gap Year of Wheaton College.
Why take a gap year now?
In response to COVID-19, the Art and Science Group conducted a survey of high school seniors to see how their plans for this fall are changing.
The major takeaway? Nearly 20% of seniors say they are either definitely or most likely changing their fall plans. Those who were headed to a four-year institution as a full-time student are now looking at other options.
Of these students, many are looking towards a gap year. At HoneyRock, we’ve already started to see the uptick with more inquiries to our gap year program, Vanguard, than ever before.
What is a gap year?
A gap year is a period of time, most often taken between high school and college, that is used to build a student’s practical experience, grow personal awareness, and build professional skills.
With a Christ-centered gap year like Vanguard, it takes on the added component of discerning God’s call, discovering purpose, and building a practiced faith.
A gap year can help our high school seniors navigate—and grow from—the global disruption of COVID-19. In the next few minutes, I’m going to share how.
A Christian Gap Year Builds Christ-Centered, Life-long Community
In the past month or two, we’ve essentially moved all of our communities online. Classrooms, churches, and extended families have flocked to digital gatherings to replicate some sense of normalcy. While this is good, and needed now, we can’t grow accustomed to the change.
Our students, who were already hyper-connected online, have only increased their digital footprint. We need to help them pull back and learn how to build intentional, Christ-centered, face to face community.
God did not create us to live life online. It’s a valuable tool—we’ve seen that in the last few months—but our life was not made to be centered around the internet, but on Christ. Chanyoung Woo, Vanguard '18, said this of his experience: "I mean, I’m going to be lifelong friends with the people I met here. The experiences you get here…I don’t think you’ll ever get another chance to do anything like this in your life." You can read more of Chan's story here.
A Christian Gap Year Invites Questions and Doubt
Outside of Vanguard, I work with a local youth group. The questions I see rising up from our adolescents right now due to COVID-19 are profoundly significant to their faith formation. As they’re looking and wondering how God could allow this to happen, how are we helping them dive into their questions? How are we carving out time and space to tend to their doubts?
Instead of jumping into college, where they’re navigating their newfound independence, balancing collegiate-level academics, and still considering these questions—why not take a year to reflect on their core beliefs and build an authentic relationship with Christ?
Sarah Lambert, Vanguard '16, saw the impact of taking a gap year for this reason: "During my freshman year of college, I just saw so many people spending 95% of their energy learning how to live away from home. Since I had already done that, I could focus on school." Read more of Sarah's story here.
A Christian Gap Year is Productive and Restorative
Too often people get caught on one track or the other. Either they live this ultra-productive life of continuous hustle or they chose the easy mode and float through life.
A well-designed gap year will be productive. Participants can adjust to their newfound independence, learn important interpersonal life skills, and develop life habits that set them up well for the future. Research shows that gap year students are more motivated, disciplined, and assume more leadership positions in college.
At the same time, a well-designed gap year will also be restorative. Students will learn how to balance the demands of life while staying anchored in Christ. They learn how to truly rest—not zone out in front of a new show or get lost online, but how to rest in Christ.
What should a high schooler do next?
You know what I'm going to say: take a gap year. It’s not giving up on the college dream, students don’t fall behind, and it’s not for those who “can’t make it” in college.
A gap year provides space to ask big questions and discern what’s next. It provides time to reflect on high school, grow from that experience, and plan the next steps. A gap year will provide an incredible community that will grow into life-long friends. During this time, as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, it can serve as both a productive and restorative time to reset before embarking on the next step.
How do I know? I’ve watched it happen year after year. This new cohort of gap year students will be no different.
If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"After spending a bit of time at college, I knew I wasn’t ready for it. I had no idea what I wanted to study, what I wanted to do, and I didn’t think college was going to be right for me. I had no interest in the things I was studying before coming to Vanguard.
I thought Vanguard would be a step in the right direction. There would be time and space to grow in my faith, to discern my vocation, and take classes about topics that were bigger than just a business school. I was expecting to grow and be challenged and learn – and hopefully, be led to the next step..."